302 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (map)
Although her law firm is only a block away from mine, it had been months since Miss A and I had managed to successfully schedule a lunch date without one of us having to cancel. So when we realised that we'd both be able to make it on Monday, Miss A wasn't about to let a little thing like scorching 35 degree heat stop us from trekking halfway across the city for good dumplings!
The eccentrically-but-presumably-accurately-named North East China Family restaurant has only been open for a short while, but lures the Flinders Lane punters in with promises of traditional dumplings. A plate of 15 dumplings costs $8, or $9 if you elect to have them pan-fried. Although this means that they're slightly more expensive per dumpling than those at Camy Shanghai Dumpling, Chinatown Dumpling and Shanghai Village (the holy trinity of cheap dirty dumpling places in the city, each of which I have visited more times than I care to remember), believe me when I tell you that NECF is an infinitely more pleasant experience!
Maybe I'm just becoming a fussy cantankerous wuss in my old age, but I do like the fact that the dumplings and complimentary tea here come served in china crockery rather than plastic crockery still dripping wet from the industrial strength dishwasher. The waitress that served us was an absolute sweetheart (unlike that nasty piece of work at Chinatown Dumpling who shoves plates of food at you with a look of utter contempt and loathing), the lofty interior was spic 'n span and at the entrance of the restaurant was a sign that read "Think Taste... We choose our ingredients for flavour and, where possible use organic produce". Pandering to Westerners in this trendier corner of the CBD? Well possibly, but when the dumplings are this good I don't mind in the least!
We started with a plate of steamed pork and pickled cabbage dumplings. They were delish - the casing was the perfect thickness and the pickled cabbage gave the dumplings a slightly sour tang that I really enjoyed. In the pork department, they also serve pork and (non-pickled) cabbage dumplings and pork and celery dumplings.
Miss A had already been here a few times before and insisted we order her favourite kind, the beef and onion dumplings pan-fried. Look how wonderfully crispy these babies were...
These tasted good on the inside too, but I think I preferred the pork ones. Good chilli and soy vinegar too, mmmm. In addition to the meaty flavours mentioned above, NECF offers some bright green vegetarian special dumplings (which include carrot, celery and cabbage) and the interesting combination of leek, shrimp and egg - both of which I am keen to try on my next visit. On our way out, Miss A mentioned that her Chinese parents had given their tick of approval not only to the NECF dumplings, but also to their wontons in noodle soup.
On Monday evening I was chatting online to my friend CJ, freshly departed from Melbourne, and wrote "you're going to hate me but I just discovered a fantastic little chinese place in town that does wicked dumplings". "shut up shut up shut up, don't do that to me" was her distressed reply - there are apparently NO dumplings to speak of in Florida... :)